No Shirt, No Shoes, Great Service: Review of Getting Naked, by Patrick Lencioni

I’m a total book snob. The list of great books out there that I want to read is so long that, even if I spent twelve hours a day doing nothing but reading and lived another hundred years, it would be difficult to get through all of them. So I’m pretty protective of the few hours a week I actually have to devote to reading.

Given this, I was fairly skeptical when I dove into Patrick Lencioni’s Getting Naked last Saturday, because it was written as a fictional account of the takeover of a boutique consulting firm by a “big five” type firm.

I was ready for the worst that business books have to offer: hackneyed story line, wooden dialogue, obvious, Dr. Phil-esque “learnings” (just typing the word makes me cringe…when did “lesson” stop being good enough?)—and I was imagining all the books on my bucket list that I would never get to read because I chose to read Lencioni’s.Cut to an hour later, with me fifty pages in and not only totally engrossed but fired up about putting my suit back on Monday morning and getting back in the trenches with my clients—this is a fantastic book.

Lencioni does such a great job telling the story of Lighthouse Partners, the boutique firm that gets gobbled up by a Big Five firm, that you quickly forget how trite the idea of a business fable is and just get engrossed in the story. And the lessons here are anything but obvious, especially for folks used to working in the cutthroat, work-em-to-death environment of large professional services firms.

Lencioni gets at what the heart of consulting should be: a complete focus on serving the client. He shows us a firm where no one sells, they simply consult. Sales calls are just the opportunity to begin solving the client’s problems. If they find value in that activity and want to pay for more they will; if they don’t, they won’t, and both parties shake hands and part amicably.

Projects are not the delivery of the work agreed to in an SOW. They are the creation of value for the client, and the SOW is merely a starting point for that activity. And the creation of value for a client does not happen through having the smartest, most confident consultants in place telling the client what to do; it comes from having consultants who are egoless, fearless, and graceful under pressure work with clients to help facilitate solutions, all predicated on doing what’s best for the client, even if it means losing the business.

In this way, Getting Naked shares its fundamental orientation with Mahan Khalsa’s Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, although the latter is more about how to transform your sales process from a transactional approach to a consultative one.

And before you dismiss Lencioni’s approach as pie in the sky and untenable in the real world of management consulting, you should know that it’s based on the work he’s been doing with his own real-world, boutique firm for years now. And if you take a deep breath and think through your own experience with clients (with what’s gone well, what hasn’t, your successes, your failures), I think you’ll begin to see that the times you were most successful were the times you were focused on the client rather than the contract, your numbers, or selling, and that Lencioni’s approach is a powerful way to do that on a more consistent basis.

The final word

Clearly I think this is an important read for anyone who works in consulting. But I would expand that to include anyone who works with consultants, because you should be getting this kind of service from the folks you’re paying good money to (and lots of it) to get help solving your most important business problems. And if you’re not, Getting Naked will help you know what to ask for or, if that doesn’t work, find the kind of consulting firm that puts client service first, and everything else second.

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